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That iPhone 4 antenna problem.

For those that haven’t been following this fiasco, let me summarise…

Three weeks ago, on 24th June, Apple released the iPhone 4.

Almost immediately someone noticed that if you touched a certain point on the external antenna then the reported signal dropped. In areas of poor network coverage, this meant no signal at all.

Very shortly after this, World + Dog1 was able to reproduce the effect on their iPhone 4.

And then they carried on using them without issue2.

However, the tech media, fuelled by Steve Jobs saying something silly, carried on ranting and raving.

It wasn’t long before the mainstream journos started to mimic their tech counterparts.

On 2nd July, Apple issued a letter regarding iPhone 4. A letter that seemed rather hurriedly put together and in which they blamed the signal issues on the iPhone’s OS showing signal bars incorrectly. It stated that a patch for the OS would be released soon but if customers were unhappy with their iPhone they still had time to return them for a full refund.

This only served to produce yet more media speculation.

Weeks later we’ve now reached a point where “public relations experts” are claiming that iPhone 4 recalls are inevitable, bookmakers are offering odds on a recall and consumer groups are pulling their iPhone 4 recommendations.

All of which has led to Apple announcing a press conference about the iPhone 4 tomorrow (16th July).

Of course the world now speculates what will be announced. A total recall? A recall of a certain batch of iPhone 4s? Free “bumpers” to limit the attenuation effects? Free iTunes gift cards to placate the masses? A lesson in how to hold the iPhone 4 properly? Or perhaps it’ll be something completely different?

In my opinion, there’s no chance of a recall of any sort. Obviously it would cost Apple a fortune but, more importantly, i don’t expect that Apple have enough devices stock-piled to deal with replacements on such a scale. Especially not devices that are now somehow “fixed”.

My guess is that the press conference will, for the most part, be a re-statement of Apple’s letter of 2nd July. Something like:

The iPhone has been a huge success – we’ve shipped 3 million devices and demand still outstrips supply. As with all mobiles there is an attenuation problem – but our testing shows that iPhone 4 gives the best call quality of any iPhone yet. Today we’re releasing iOS 4.0.1 which updates the signal bar algorithm to give a truer indication of signal level. Furthermore, we’re extending the returns period to 60 days so that any customers that are dissatisfied with the iPhone 4 can return it for a full refund.

Feel free to come back and laugh at this prediction after 6pm British time tomorrow.

Update: This opinion piece at T3KD is worth a read. Seems like a sensible take on the antenna situation to me.

Update #2: I’ve just come across this piece at ElectricPig about what to expect at tomorrow’s press conference. It’s about the most reasonable speculation i’ve seen thus far.

Update #3: Wow. WOW. I praise ElectricPig for publishing the most reasonable speculation i’d seen and then they go and post the most horrendous tripe i’ve read on the matter. Apparently Steve Jobs is personally to blame, “Millions of devices now rest in the hands of unhappy, or at the least slightly confused customers” and iPhone 4 owners deserve a public apology and “a freebie or two as well“. Fucking hell. What utter, utter toss. If you find the phone is so unbearably bad, take it back and spend your money elsewhere. It’s really not that difficult, is it?

Meanwhile, the smart folk at Anandtech have been busy analysing the iOS 4.0.1 update which Apple actually pushed out last night. (Yes, my prediction is already falling apart and we’re still 6 hours or so from the press conference starting)

Update #4:

Update #5: So, the Apple have had their say. I thought they said the right things and tried to deal with the media sensationalism as best they could. Was my above prediction correct though? In short, not really. iOS 4.0.1 was released before the event, the return window stays at 30 days and customers ARE going to get free cases. I was right with my estimate that sales would’ve surpassed 3 million though, so you know, i may still be related to Nostradamus. If you want to know exactly what was said at the press conference, Apple have put a video of the event online (the lazy amongst you could alternatively try Engadget’s summary. They’ve also published a new webpage about antenna performance here.

The one detail from the press call that left me puzzled though – the “deadline” for free cases being the end of September. Why not just say anyone who bought a case already can have the cost refunded and anyone who already bought an iPhone 4 can have a case for free? Why open it up for a couple of months? Is it just generosity/pr or will a hardware fix come by then? That’s what Graham at MacPredictions speculates might happen. Interesting idea.

Incidentally, Graham has also written a piece about the psychology of “Antennagate” which is well worth a read.

  1. Or around 1.7 million people

  2. As i said in my original “review”, i can reproduce the signal drop but it has yet to actually inconvenience me. And every iPhone 4 owner i’ve asked says pretty much the same thing.